'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

01 August 2011

King Arthur - History and Legend

On one of several trips to England many years ago, a friend and I searched out Arthurian locations all over the land. We trod, where legend has it, the stories evolved and where Arthur, whom ever he may have been, inspired the idea of the once and future king. Of course many see it as a simple tale, but it is full of murder, war, rape, adultery, incest, lies and revenge and many mystic elements that have ensured it as a favourite tale for many centuries.

MerlinWith the help of the wizard Merlin King Uther Pendragon took on the appearance of Duke of Tintagel and bedded his wife Igraine. She bore a son Arthur. Merlin, to protect the heir to the throne, took the boy to be raised in secret.  When King Uther died there was conflict over who should be the next king. Merlin had magically set a sword in a stone. It was inscribed with the words- "Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone is the rightwise born king of all England." All tried, but none could until Arthur accidently drew it and was proclaimed King. He gathered Knights around him at the castle Camelot. They met as equals around a Round Table, fought battles and beasts were famously chivalrous and began a 'Quest for the Holy Grail'. Arthur received a second magical sword Excalibur from The Lady Of The Lake. He married Queen Guinevere. The peace eventually turned to civil war which led to the death of both Arthur and his opponent Mordred, the son of his half sister Morgana. The Sword was cast back into the depths of the lake.
In the first century Joseph of Arimathea is said to have gone to Glastonbury as the first Christian missionary to Britain. Legend says that he brought with him the Holy Grail, which was either a cup/bowl or possibly two "cruets" thought to contain the blood and sweat of the crucified Christ. 
The role of the grail in Arthurian legend is common in modern thought and stories, but any Christian influence in those days was more probably because of the Roman occupation and Arthur and the battling influences of his time were more likely what we call pagan. As the Roman influence waned in Briton the Saxons were settling and 'Arthur' was probably born around this time, the late fifth century. Today he and his 'knights' or warriors are thought by some to have been trained by the Romans. The word 'knight' did not evolve for another 500 years or more in the Middle Ages. The earlier form 'cniht' (amongst other forms) referred only to a boy, youth or attendant and not any noble military rank, which it later became. Most of the legends of Arthur began in twelfth century France from Troyes, the capital of Champagne and the home of the reformed Cistercians and the founders of the Knights Templar. There was a strong crusader link to the Middle East and Arthur's court resembled the court of Champagne, with emphasis on chivalry. Champagne's queen, a powerful woman, was influenced by the songs of the troubadours and held "courts of love". The 'round table' may be drawn from the Zodiac signs or the circle of the year, in which case the Celtic Ogham Tree letters may correspond to the names of various knights and their seasons.  It is also possible to see the knights "who sat around the table as equals" as the 12 lunar months of the year and it is not a stretch to also see the twelve apostles.

Arthur was most likely a real person, although as mentioned above a roman soldier, perhaps becoming a lesser king, or minor royal of South East Wales. He became War Duke in the roman style and would have been called Pindari (Pendragon or 'head warlord', in Welsh). He would have had a band of good warriors. His companions would have been his 'court'. The location of his 'Kingdom' is not known although many places vie for the honour. 
He is said to have been buried in Glastonbury where in the twelfth century the Monks dug up an ancient burial they claimed was his.
 I have been to Glastonbury and it is a place full of mystery and magic, or at least that is what I felt at sunset as I climbed the Tor and stared into the distance on a quiet winter's day. Only one other place on this planet has given me that strange feeling of being special and that was the ancient temple and shrines at Delphi in Greece where Apollo came to earth.
From the Tor across in the distance can be seen a hill where the re-covered foundations of Cadbury Castle are suggested as Camelot. They are now a cow paddock and were still equally as fascinating. We climbed over a fence and up the cow trail to see the foundation ruins just poking from the grass and soil in places.
On the coast at Cornwall is the stormy windswept medieval rocky grandeur of Tintagel, which is known as the birthplace of Arthur and below the cliff sits the cave of Merlin.
Just to show my interest in the Arthurian legend I have in my collection books I bought at Tintagel  as well as the films - Excalibur (1981), King Arthur (2004), Merlin and the War of the Dragons (2008), Merlin the Return (2000) and the following mini series and series - Arthur of the Britons (1972), The Boy Merlin (1979), Camelot (2011), Merlin (2006), Merlin (1998), Merlin's Apprentice (2006)
This will give you access to the other parts of the documentary.

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